Why cruises are key to Merseyside’s future

For years the waters of the River Mersey have supplied a great wealth of attraction and a rich maritime past. Now with the surge in tourists boarding cruise ships for their holiday there has been a boost in the Merseyside tourism sector. With a substantial increase in the number of ships visiting the city, docking close to the famous Liver Building, the future is certainly all about cruising.

2014 will see at least fifty visits by cruise ships to Liverpool, without counting visits from the Royal Navy vessels. Officially opened in 2007, the Liverpool Cruise Terminal cost £19 million to build. It previously and still does allow cruise ships to call at the city, offering passengers the security and safety of visiting a world class destination. The new build also improved services for customers of the Isle of Man Steam Packet Ferry. In 2012, after a bizarre decision to make Liverpool City Council repay previous funding, a decision was reached that would see cruise ships able to begin and end their journeys in the city, for the first time in over 40 years. Liverpool is now a world class cruising destination.

The first commercial transatlantic trade can be traced as far back as 1648 and today Liverpool’s shipping industry remains one of commercial ventures albeit pushed heavily through the tourism sector. This year is expected to see an estimated 70,000 visitors to Liverpool on cruise ships alone. That’s without any guesses toward the number of people from across the North West who will head to the city to catch a glimpse of the liners, including the German six-star rated MS Europa 2 and Princess Cruises’ Ruby Princess. Thousands of pounds will be spent by tourists in the city, in restaurants, museums and shops, with Mayor Joe Anderson saying that each vessel will be worth up to £1 million to the local economy. This will continue to create and sustain jobs in the Merseyside tourism sector. The sector which is vital for Liverpool’s economic future.

An impressive view. Source: ITV

An impressive view. Source: ITV

Cruise passengers from Northern Britain have spent years travelling to the ‘cruise hub’ in Southampton and now Liverpool could offer an unparalleled northern hub for cruise liners. There has been some upset from the southern cruise city however. Experts, based in Southampton, have said that despite Liverpool’s rise in the cruise liner industry Southampton will not be affected. The so called ‘cruise wars’ between the two ports has been raging for many years. Last year, an announcement from Merseyside confirmed a dredging process would start to take place, at the tune of £35million of government funding, to allow larger container and passenger ships near the Seaforth estuary. At the same time, Southampton confirmed a privately funded project in to the regeneration of their docks, this time to the sound of £70 million. Southampton’s council has stated that its history will ensure the future of the docks remains alive. But Liverpool’s richer maritime history could see the city head to the top of the UK’s top cruise destination.

Ships still dominate the River Mersey and it is an industry which is vital to the growth and success of Merseyside’s economy. From the ferry that sails passengers between the Pier Head and Wirral to the large container ships that dock at the Port of Liverpool, the river is more than the bloodline for Liverpool. Cammell Laird, dominating the Wirral side of the Mersey continues to thrive as the largest and most successful ship repair and conversion specialist in the UK. Today, ship building at the Birkenhead site continues to mould the UK economy as well as keeping local people employed and the ship building industry alive.

Elsewhere, Liverpool is often regarded as the spiritual home of Cunard; the 175th anniversary of the historic cruise line will be celebrated in 2015 in front of the three graces at the Pier Head. The historic ‘unsinkable’ Titanic was registered in Liverpool and so the city name was carried on her stern; The Lusitania which entered service in Liverpool had a similar strong link to the city people. Both are two of the worst shipping disasters in maritime history. Whilst both of these ships history is marked in the city and the North West maritime past, it is hoped the disasters are not an indication for the future of shipping in the area.

Speak to any overseas tourists and one of the top destinations that is spoken is Liverpool. For it’s culture and history, the city has gained international recognition. See how many tourists openly praise the city on their arrival and it is very easy to see that visitors ‘love Liverpool’. Currently it is smaller ships that are beginning their cruise journeys in Liverpool, but it is hoped that the continuing support from the city council and visits from Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth, Mary and Victoria in 2015, will not only pinpoint Liverpool as the ultimate cruising city but also create maritime history.

The docks of Liverpool have paved the way for economic security in Liverpool for generations. From when the trade of commodities such as sugar were stored in the Albert Dock warehouses right through the hosting of the ‘Tall Ships’ and the round the world ‘Clipper Race’, the waters have always been held in great respect by the people of Merseyside. Today, although Liverpool may not be the international trading port it once was, the future is now destined for tourism. Vehicle ferries across the Irish Sea have terminated in Liverpool for years, cruises which have been visiting seem to be getting bigger and bigger, and the next step is ensuring larger liners not only visit the city but ‘turnaround’ from there too.

There is no destination like Liverpool. History and 21st century culture are a mix within a stones throw from the new cruise terminal. The diversity of the great city, its people, architecture and culture alike, are a huge draw for tourists and it certainly makes sense for it to be the ultimate cruise stop on the global map. The city’s rich maritime history which is still celebrated and commemorated to this day means the only way forward for Liverpool is cruising on the Mersey.

For more details on the Cruise Terminal and visits by ships to Merseyside visit the official website: http://www.cruise-liverpool.com/


Have we fallen out of love with our seaside ?

A heatwave to rival similar temperatures in 2006 made the summer of 2013 very memorable indeed. Memorable for being outstanding compared to recent seasons of rain, wind and cold. So whilst the sun may have lifted the moods of millions up and down the land, I believe that as a nation we have fallen out of love with our seaside. And it’s easy to see why.

If you think of seaside, the first resort that comes to mind is Blackpool. Once a thriving coastal hotspot, thousands of workers flocked from the factories and hardships of working class life to relax and escape during the industrial revolution. The 1800’s and early 20th century was really when Blackpool boomed and was a must visit place. New infrastructure including railway stations allowed the mass population to travel to the coast to take in the “healthy” sea breeze, take part in leisure activities and visit new attractions including the piers, Blackpool tower and of course the famous illuminations. Today a fairly large question mark hangs over our seaside resorts – are they in decline?

Industrialisation and the motorisation period did bring benefits to coastal resorts, namely as people could now access them. But as the development of aeroplanes and the popularity of flight increased, more and more people have fled British resorts altogether and headed abroad for their holidays. Resorts such as Benidorm offer a new environment for British holidaymakers, high-rise buildings, sandy beaches, blue waters and a certain hot weather. As the age of flight took millions around the globe, package holidays offering cheap vacations abroad, the decline of the British seaside had begun. It became more affordable and more attractive to holiday abroad than to holiday on the British coast.

All is quiet at Brighton Beach

All is quiet at Brighton Beach

The illuminations in Blackpool not only signal the end of the Summer season but also represent a seemingly outdated nostalgia on the coast of the Irish Sea. My memories of visits to Blackpool are night-time trips to “The Golden Mile”, walking in the cold and wind, in awe of the bright lights, trams and fairgrounds. Very sentimental. I have only really visited Blackpool once in daytime light and frankly I wished it was dark so I couldn’t see the town. It is a shame but too many of our resorts, Blackpool, Brighton, Morecambe, Clacton-On-Sea and the rest have built up a reputation of shabbiness, uncleanliness and general disappointment. And furthermore why would any family choose to holiday on the British coast when 46 of our beaches have been labelled as “health hazards”?

The theme of decline continues. A study by the Office for National Statistics concluded that Skegness had the highest level of deprivation out of a total of 57 large and medium-sized seaside towns in 2010. Once resorts that flourished with tourists are now in dire need of help when it comes to health, disability, poverty and employment levels. Blackpool, which still brings in more visitors than any other seaside resort, had the second highest deprivation levels. Despite that, tourism and council leaders still suggest that more people year-on-year are choosing to retire at the seaside as the air is fresh and health benefits are significantly better than in land towns and cities. Nevertheless the take off of package holidays abroad and cheap deals elsewhere have driven tourists away from the coast.

It is beyond transparent as to understanding why tourists choose new styles of holidaying. Camping in Britain is on the increase across the countryside (which can be completely exquisite when the weather is right) namely because it is cheaper and perhaps offers more family bonds and a different sense of adventure. City breaks have become popular. I’ve visited Bruges, Berlin, Glasgow and Edinburgh amongst others for my ‘getaway’ and they are truly magnificent. My favourite are European cities; they offer a buzz in a mix of traditional architecture and modern infrastructure. It’s also become apparent that cruising, once reserved for the elite, is now a hot favourite amongst families choosing to combine everything. Beaches, great weather, luxurious accommodation, great food and interesting locations to dock at, it is no wonder that taking a cruise has become a real sense of adventure, exploration and genuine excitement. And of course, the traditional beach holiday to The Canaries, Portugal, Costa Del Sol and beyond are affordable in any one of the hundreds of package holidays available. Everything to do with holidays has modernised, from accommodation to the way we actually get there, yet the British seaside resort still seems stalled in an era of low expectations.

Whilst the British seaside may have become a little stagnant, lets not forget that actually it is quite an iconic place to visit. The annual day which sees ‘soaring’ mercury leads to the newspapers printing impressive images of hundreds of people crammed onto the beach basking in the sunshine which is great. Nowhere does seaside food better than Britain – Fish and Chips for a start. Beach huts which parade the beach perimeters are a lucrative business and the trams at Blackpool are instantly recognisable. But then again the littering of arcades and gambling businesses on the seafront take the shine from our resorts, as do unclean and poorly maintained buildings, and let’s face it if we are comparing a British seaside hut to the extraordinary sky rise towers of Europe, Asia and beyond then something has gone wrong. Yes, there are good sides to our resorts but everything is very minimalistic compared to our foreign cousins.

Benidorm is popular with foreign tourists.

Benidorm is popular with foreign tourists.

I visited Blackpool this year for the first time in a blue moon because I wanted to see first hand if anything had changed from what I remember and what I had researched. I’m afraid to say it hasn’t. The lights are still as underwhelming as ever in comparison to other life experiences, the row of children’s arcades are simply unattractive and buildings including the ‘Sandcastle’ are monstrous. It really was no surprise when it was revealed by the Blackpool tourism board that £372,000 was lost from the switch on of the lights. People aren’t interesting in visiting a place with a less than fantastic reputation in the cold to see some fairy lights. Regardless of how long the tradition has continued for.

There is evidence that our resorts are attempting to adapt to the 21st century. Part of the promenade at Blackpool is very modern and spacious for visitors; Some of the fleet of traditional trams have been replaced by the inter-city type tram and there is a growing celebrity culture associated with our coastal resorts. For me it’s too little too late. Our seaside towns are going to have to work in overdrive to pursue old reputations away and convince thousands that visiting and holidaying in the big coastal resorts is an adventure to rival other types of holidays.

Many, I’m sure, will continue to flock to our coastal resorts as it is cheaper than going abroad. But for that you get no security in the weather, little to do and a donkey walking along the beach. I’m positive there is still some love for the seaside; It’s like an old friend. Today, there is so much more to see and do and parts of the world to explore. I know what I’d be choosing. I’ll get booking those plane tickets right away.

For more on the study by the ONS on seaside deprivation see http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2013/aug/21/english-seaside-towns-deprivation